Music Features

Crossover
4:59 pm
Fri November 7, 2014

Versatile Excellence: Pianist Jonathan Miles Freeman

Many times, when you come across someone described as "versatile," you find they can certainly do a lot of different things, but each only adequately. Jonathan Miles Freeman, piano, is not one of those people. Freeman does everything, and he does it excellently.

Read more
Now Is the Time
11:37 am
Fri November 7, 2014

Into the Brightening Air

A string quartet and a solo cello breathe on Now Is the Time, Saturday, November 8th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Michael Hersch wrote the Sonata No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello when he was all of 23 years old, and already, his dark, simple lines reached through the air to brilliance. The inner virtuosity of emotional movement looms over this music.

Simplicity and small steps also mesmerize within the writing of Lois V Vierk. Into the Brightening Air, inspired by Yeats and dedicated to composer/pianist Mel Powell, takes a quartet of strings on an unexpected journey past familiar landscapes. The windows are down and the wind in our face both soothes and surprises.

Read more
Now Is the Time
5:59 am
Sat November 1, 2014

Preludes and Remembering Stephen Paulus

Lara Downes, Reform, including the music of Stephen Paulus

We remember Stephen Paulus in this rebroadcast, from last spring, of Now Is the Time, Saturday, November 1st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Paulus, who died on October 19th (see our remembrance here), wrote comfortably in every genre; we start the program with a short, sassy work played by pianist Lara Downes, his Prelude No. 3: Sprightly. Then guitarist David Starobin and composer William Bland go way back to their school days. Starobin loves playing Bland's music, and we'll hear six of a projected cycle of 48 Preludes.

We return to the piano for the 12 Preludes of Bernard Rands, covering a wide landscape of emotional and tonal range. Included are two movements in memoriam of composer colleagues of Rands, Luciano Berio and Donald Martino.

Read more
Crossover
9:03 pm
Fri October 31, 2014

Highlights from the 2014 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival

'The Lady in Number 6' traces the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and the oldest known living Holocaust survivor until she passed away at 110, just days before the film about her life was chosen for an Academy Award.

The 2014 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, a signature program of Philadelphia's Gershman Y, runs November 1st through the 16th. The festival will showcase 17 films from eight countries, in seven different venues across the city.

Read more
Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
1:47 pm
Thu October 30, 2014

The Taste of Bach and Harpsichords

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Nov. 1st, 2014, 5-6 pm... Let’s face it, the harpsichord is an acquired taste. In popular culture, never helpful for appreciating the fine or unusual, the harpsichord is shorthand for—at best—stuffy, rich, out-of-touch, let-them-eat-cake. That’s at best. At worst, it’s sinister. And that doesn’t even count Lurch on The Addams Family.

The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument that has often been misapplied. It has a delicate, refined sound, yet can help to keep the players onstage together. Indeed, before we stood conductors on their feet in front of everyone, they were often in the middle of the orchestra, seated at and playing the harpsichord.

But placing that plucked keyboard in a large hall with many instruments will bury the sound. We are left to wonder: If we can’t hear it, why is it there? The answer, of course, is that it shouldn’t be. Even large harpsichords need smallish rooms and a modicum of company. Then we can really hear its capacity for nuance and, yes, power.
 

Johann Sebastian Bach understood this, as he did so many things, and basically invented the harpsichord concerto, mostly for concerts at the local coffee house, Zimmermann’s. But calling them concerts doesn’t quite catch the flavor. Bach ran (along with the music in four churches, a school, and much else in Leipzig) the Collegium Musicum, a student musical group. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, the closest thing to an opera he ever wrote, was probably written for performance here.

Zimmermann’s had two rooms, the largest, about 26’ x 32’, the size of a very ample living room. This is where the harpsichord concertos of Bach were premiered. Newer recordings of Bach take this to heart. We can hear the tang of the strings, the colors of the instruments, the roar of crescendos as cataracts of notes tumble up and down the keyboard.

Since the harpsichord has no sustain pedal like the piano, and since the inner mechanism plucks the strings with the same force regardless of how hard one hits the keys, the only way to make it louder is literally to play more notes at the same time. Listen for this in Bach’s writing, and in these wonderful performances.

Bach cobbled together most of his harpsichord concertos from other works, rewriting other solo concertos into this format. Because some of his sons were still living at home and were excellent keyboardists, they may have played on some of these. The triple concerto (solo harpsichord, flute, and violin with string accompaniment) features the keyboard the most. The two-harpsichord concerto may be the only one that began life as an actual harpsichord piece. For the concerto of a quartet of harpsichords, Bach went not to his own music, but to Vivaldi’s, which he loved and from which he learned so much. It’s a Baroque battle of the bands, with the players trading arpeggios back and forth.

It’s easy to imagine the sheer fun Bach had writing and playing these at Zimmermann’s, alongside students, his sons, and a willing audience of coffee drinkers eager to hear the latest from the Leipzig Kantor. Now there’s a taste we’re happy to acquire.

Read more
Crossover
8:44 am
Sat October 25, 2014

Finding New Ways to Engage Classical Music Audiences

Stephen Gunzenhauser is music director of the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra

Two of our favorite guests return to Crossover this week. In their own ways they create classical concert experiences...but they endeavor to take it further than that.

Read more
Now Is the Time
11:01 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Pre-Halloween Suites

Let's have suites before Halloween on Now Is the Time, Saturday, October 25th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. A Prelude, Sarabande, Burlesca, and Gigue make up the Partita (just another name for suite) for piano by Anthony Iannaccone. Guitarist David Starobin loves playing the music of Paul Lansky for, besides being a wonderful composer, Lansky also plays the guitar and knows the instrument very well. The recipe for his Semi-Suite includes Putative Prelude, Aimless Air, Crooked Courante, Shameless Sarabande, Awkward Allemande, and Partly Pavane.

Philadelphia composer Harold Boatrite's Lyric Suite for Piano is from his piano and harpsichord CD of a few years back, Sonatas & Suites. Andy Teirstein boils down a work for multiple strings, written for an outdoor procession, to a string quartet, for the final work on our program, simply, Suite.

Read more
Music Features
5:30 pm
Tue October 21, 2014

My Memories of Composer Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus

It has to be 30 years ago now; I was sitting in a cafe with composers Jennifer Higdon, Rob Maggio, Sylvia Glickman, and a fellow in town from Minnesota, who was advising us on a composer organization start-up. He was already well-known in composer circles as the one who, with Libby Larsen, began in Minnesota what became the largest composer service organization in the world, the American Composers Forum. 

His name was Stephen Paulus. He died at age 65 on Sunday, October 19th. He had suffered a debilitating stroke on July 4th, 2013, saddening musicians and audiences everywhere. Now we mourn.

At that table, his enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, but I remember most of all his kindness. His music reflects that, too. A few months ago I programmed a short work, his Prelude No. 3 for piano, on WRTI's contemporary American music program Now Is the Time. "Sprightly" is Paulus's subtitle, and it encapsulates what I always hear in his music—be it choral, orchestral, operatic. From his more than 500 works, what I always hear is simplicity (even with complicated materials) and melodic openness.

Read more
Philadelphia Music Makers on WRTI
1:14 pm
Mon October 20, 2014

Composer David Ludwig: All In The Family

David Ludwig is acutely aware of the importance of legacy. Born into a long line of celebrated figures in classical music, Ludwig is just the latest member of his immediate family to attend, and then become, a faculty member at the Curtis Institute of Music.

His grandfather and great-grandfather stand out in history as some of the foremost performers of their time on piano and violin, respectively. But more than just fame and talent, Ludwig’s lineage instilled him with a commitment to both moral and artistic integrity.

Read more
Crossover
10:52 am
Sat October 18, 2014

Manfred Honeck + Pittsburgh = No More Big Five

Conductor Manfred Honeck

Once upon a time, in the world of classical music, there lived the "Big Five." The term was used to lump together the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and our own Philadelphia Orchestra as the finest performing orchestras in the U.S.

But, over time, as other orchestras gained stature, both in performance and finances, the term became passe and no longer indicative of the American orchestral scene.

Read more

Pages